For the fifth time in as many weeks the No. 1 team in the nation lost. Thursday night in Champaign, Ill., Tyler Griffey’s wide open layup as time expired lifted Illinois to a much needed 74-72 win over top-ranked Indiana.
On the game-winning play, the Hoosiers’ focus was on D.J. Richardson, who was coming off a screen looking for an open look. Due to the screen and a lack of communication, Cody Zeller lost Griffey, as he cut to the basket to score the game winning bucket.
While Griffey went on to be the game’s hero, Zeller had himself a “Tyler moment.”
Before the season began, Zeller, the preseason player of the year, was profiled in a piece written by Matt Crossman of Sporting News.
In the profile, Crossman explained how Zeller always learned from watching his brothers, Luke at Notre Dame and Tyler and North Carolina.
Last season, when Tyler Zeller played for North Carolina, Duke’s Austin Rivers hit a last-second 3-pointer to lift Duke over UNC, one of the most dramatic shots in the history of that rivalry. Tyler was criticized for not getting in Rivers’ face to contest the shot.
A few months later, Indiana was in the closing seconds against VCU in the NCAA Tournament. VCU had the ball with a chance to win. In the huddle, as Indiana discussed defensive switches, Cody vowed to be aggressive. “I even told someone, ‘You better believe I’m going to get out. I’m not going to have a Tyler moment.’ ”
When the play started, Cody blitzed a screen and jumped out on the ballhandler at the 3-point line. That forced the VCU player to drive into the lane. He had no chance to shoot over Zeller, so he passed to a man on the wing. He missed the shot, and the Hoosiers won.
During Thursday night’s loss, Zeller was on the wrong end of a game-winning play, having his own “Tyler moment.” As one of the nation’s top players and future a top 5 pick in the NBA Draft, the youngest Zeller will likely learn from his own experiences.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.